I was a reference librarian at several libraries early in my career (before the Internet changed reference work forever). I loved the interaction with people who needed information. What would the next question be? Would I be able to help find the answer? What new piece of information would I learn from this person’s question? I loved telling people that, yes, I could help right now and we’d work together until we found the answer or the book they wanted. I could often see the relief in their faces. So many times–I’m talking before this virus–we navigate through phone trees that don’t have the option we want; we can’t find the staff in retail stores to help us find what we need; we wait for someone to notice that we’re waiting to ask a question; we speak to people on the phone who are reading from scripts that don’t pertain to our lives; we hear “no we don’t” or “no we can’t” or “we don’t have/do that anymore.”
That’s why I loved library work: we said “yes.” So I was delighted to read this short article titled I Miss the Library by Amy Shearn, about just that aspect of visiting the library. Shearn hits all the right points. Her article, which I found on LitHub, was originally published in the online magazine, Human Parts. It’s short and it will remind you how great libraries are and how much we’re missing them.
And the photo is heartwarming – pure, pure delight….. Little Rosalind’s delight in the book. The warm trust in her beaming face. And the evident delight of her mother in her little girl is a joy to behold – just look at that meticulously ironed dress.
I learned that reference librarians are a breed apart when Lynne completed her MLS at Rutgers and started working at the Woodbridge Public Library. It became evident that the pursuit of information on someone else’s behalf can be a form of OCD, and that the skills honed to serve the obsession are long lasting. Twenty years after she left the Henry Inman branch, Lynne once told me where on the shelves there I’d be able to find a book about actors who were contemporary with John Wilkes Booth – citing the exact location and the color of the cover. There’s a demon at work there.
I understand how Lynne felt and I still think about a question I didn’t answer properly for a student at my first job, when I didn’t know all the sources so well. I also loved that moment when someone approached the reference desk and you have to sense their body language so you can approach them in the space they’re at, i.e., disarm their expectations that you’re going to say “no.”